Open in App

16 Emotionally Devastating TV Episodes That Are Impossible To Forget Once You've Seen Them

By Hannah Marder,


1. The Last of Us , "Long Long Time"

This is the kind of TV episode that's devastating and wonderful at the same time. Because in the end, Bill and Frank have a wonderful life together, and that's clearly more than most people get in the show (and, frankly, in real life). But watching that kind of love end — because we have to go on, unlike Bill and Frank — is so utterly devastating that it was genuinely hard for me to go to work on Monday. Even better, this episode was completely unexpected. I sat down Sunday night ready for some zombie action and got a gut-wrenching love story for the ages.


2. The Haunting of Bly Manor , "The Beast in the Jungle"

Like "Long Long Time," this is just a beautiful episode of television. After quickly wrapping up the main story, the day is saved; but all is not well. Dani and Jamie go on to have a few happy years forever, but we're forced to watch as Dani continues to be increasingly haunted by the Lady in the Lake until she finally succumbs to her. Even in a supernatural show, Jamie's pain feels so guttural and poignant to real life; it feels very much like watching someone take care of a spouse dying of disease.


3. The Good Place , "Whenever You're Ready"

This is another one on the list that's happy and sad at the same time. I sobbed during it, but it also felt right, and it was a genuinely happy ending for the characters. Still, we had to watch all the characters say goodbye to each other, and then, we had to say goodbye to them, too. There were so many touching and devastating moments, but I think Chidi and Eleanor's moment on the couch takes the cake. Who knew that a comedy could completely wreck me?


4. Glee , "The Quarterback"

Any tribute episode to a show's cast member who has died is utterly devastating, and I gotta hand it to Glee, they did a wonderful job — not just for Cory, but for the remaining cast members who were mourning their relationship with him. It felt cathartic for both them and viewers, even though it was gut-wrenching to watch.


5. Futurama , "Jurassic Bark"

This one is actually so sad it makes me angry, but hey, it's still good television! In case you somehow don't know, this is the Futurama episode where Fry finds his old dog Seymour as a fossil in a museum, and decides to have him cloned. Ultimately, he changes his mind after discovering Seymour had a long life after Fry, which he assumes was fulfilling. EXCEPT THEN IT SHOWS US THAT HE DIDN'T. HE WAITED OUTSIDE A PIZZA SHOP FOR FRY TO COME BACK FOR 12 YEARS. Just thinking about my pet doing that for me and me never coming home is enough to rip my heart out.


6. This Is Us, "Super Bowl Sunday"

Pretty much every episode of This Is Us could be on this list, but I'll go with the saddest. We all knew Jack's death was coming this episode, making it both a stressful and a grief-filled watch. Still, it managed to surprise us by having Jack seemingly survive the fire — which only made his later death from smoke inhalation that much more devastating. Rebecca's reaction to Jack's death — first denial, then despondency — feels so real, and I'm still mad Mandy Moore didn't win an Emmy for this episode. But I think the saddest moment in the whole episode is actually when Rebecca tells Miguel that Jack is dead and prepares herself to tell her children that they no longer have a father. You feel so much for her in that moment as someone who has just lost the love of her life, but has to be strong for her children.


7. Angel , "A Hole in the World"

With Cordelia gone, Fred really felt like the beating heart and the light of the show. Having her get sick and die in a single episode was one of the most devastating and surprising things I've ever seen on TV, and possibly the closest to how it feels for someone to suddenly get ill or injured in real life. Throughout the episode, I just kept thinking, "this can't be happening" and "she'll make it." When she finally died, I just stared at the TV in shock. It genuinely gave me a sense of losing innocence because I'd had such faith it would work out. I couldn't pick up the show to watch the last few episodes for a few days after this; I was so upset.

The WB

8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer , "The Body"

If Angel's "A Hole in the World" was the perfect approximation of what it feels like leading up to losing someone suddenly, "The Body" was the perfect approximation of how it feels after. Never have I seen a show deal with death and its aftermath in such a realistic way. There's a bit of vamp action, but this is mostly about Buffy, Dawn, and their friends mourning the loss of Buffy's mom. Through the different characters, it nails the different types of grief — from Xander's anger to Dawn's denial to Willow's stress over being there for Buffy to Anya's inability to understand death. It's honestly a great episode of TV even if you haven't seen the show, but I'd recommend tissues.

The WB

9. One Tree Hill, "Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly."

Quentin's death was just so sudden and unexpected — but it also felt realistic, because I think everyone who's gone to high school had at least one kid in their class/school who died suddenly. This episode nailed the grief of someone dying young under such unnecessary circumstances through so many different eyes, while also providing a really poignant image of depression through Brooke, who in contrast to her friends, feels nothing but coldness while everyone mourns. But I gotta point to Jamie putting the cape over Q's casket as the saddest moment. He's only a little kid, and to have to come to terms with death so young is just so heartbreaking.

The CW

10. Riverdale , "Chapter Fifty-Eight: In Memoriam"

I know, I know. Including Riverdale on this list feels wrong. But they did a beautiful job honoring Luke Perry. Having Shannen Doherty guest star as a motorist Fred saved did such justice to both his character and to Luke, and added an extra emotional element to the episode as Shannen and Luke were once longtime costars. One scene I loved was Veronica refusing to leave Archie as he tries to push her away in the wake of his father's death. And when the whole town holds up signs for Fred's homecoming? I sobbed.

The CW

11. The Haunting of Hill House , "The Bent-Neck Lady"

There are so many episodes I could pick (which is wild considering there's only 10); this whole series is a masterclass in grief. But I think finally getting to see Nell's story was the most tragic. Yes, it's a frightening and disturbing episode, but more than that, Nell's story is just tragic. We see Nell suffer as a kid and as an adult, and the way she becomes increasingly haunted by (unbeknownst to her) her own future. Her relationships with her family members become more fraught, leaving her to struggle alone and ultimately end up fulfilling her tragic destiny. The final twist — that the Bent-Neck Lady she's been seeing her whole life has actually been her all along — is genuinely more heart-breaking than scary, and it's a far worse fate than Nell deserved.


12. Pose , "Never Knew Love Like This Before"

Anytime a character dies suddenly on a TV show, it's sad — made even more so if the show lingers on it and shows the funeral. Sometimes, this can feel self-indulgent, but in this episode, every single eulogy feels necessary and earned. Beyond just being a worthy and beautiful goodbye to Candy (her last performance is a spectacular sendoff), this episode already feels especially heartbreaking and poignant because it serves to highlight the violence trans people and sex workers face in real life.


13. Grey's Anatomy , "How to Save a Life"

This is another one, like "Jurassic Bark," that is so sad it makes me angry. Derek didn't have to die, and it feels like they're playing around with us the whole episode of when and how it's going to happen (since we knew Dempsey was leaving) — kind of similarly to "Super Bowl Sunday." This makes the whole episode stressful and sad, but I gotta hand it to them, the scene where Meredith says goodbye is genuinely heartbreaking, and I do really like that in the end, Meredith got to say goodbye, and it was her choice to pull the plug. Flashing back to all the Meredith and Derek moments was another emotional gut punch that puts this in the top saddest Grey's episodes, and that's saying something.


14. One Tree Hill, "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept"

I'm sorry to choose another One Tree Hill episode (this was a reallll formative show for me), but I genuinely couldn't decide between the two. I'm not generally a fan of teen shows exploiting school shootings for drama, but this episode feels less like a school shooting (it's more Jimmy holding up a classroom with a gun; no classmates die) and more like a look at bullying, depression, and trauma (that continued to be referenced after the fact, rather than being a one-and-done thing). Keith's conversation with Jimmy at the end is one of the most heartbreaking parts, but there are other standout moments, too: like Brooke breaking down when she realizes a girl at school has been invisible to her. Jimmy's conversations with the people in the classroom also highlight not only the effects of bullying, but also the ways that depression lies to us and twists our worldview (like when Jimmy accuses Mouth of abandoning him, and Mouth tries to tell him that it was Jimmy who stopped wanting to hang out). Overall, rewatching this as an adult, I came away with a sense of how young teenagers are (despite all their very adult decisions and words in many OTH episodes) and how easily our actions affect others. I also love that this episode leaves you with the sense that Jimmy didn't have to die; things could have, like Keith says, gotten better.

The WB

15. Skins , "Final Goodbyes"

Skins is known for having one character die every generation, but TBH, I think they did it best the first time. Chris's death is heartbreaking and shocking without feeling like it was done for shock value, but it's the aftermath that truly broke me. Chris's father showing up and telling his friends they can't come to his funeral, and then them showing up anyways to give their own tribute to Chris (complete with fireworks) is so beautiful and perfect, and it had me crying even just screen-capping it. The episode also truly captures the bittersweet feeling of saying goodbye to a whole era in your life as the characters leave high school and prepare for the future, in a way that I haven't actually seen many teen dramas do well — I think this is due at least in part to Skins' expert decision to not follow the characters post-high school and instead move on to new characters.


16. Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, "Zoey's Extraordinary Dad"

When I first heard about this show, I did NOT expect it to be this gut-wrenching. Much of the first season focuses on Zoey and her relationship with her father, who has a progressive brain disorder and is nonverbal. However, through her newfound ability to hear people's thoughts and feelings through song, she is able to communicate with him...until he dies at the end of Season 1. Watching Zoey's whole family say goodbye to their patriarch through song is so heartbreaking, but of course, it's Zoey dancing with her father as he dies that really gets me. It's just a beautiful sendoff to Mitch's character for the viewer and for Zoey herself.


What TV episode makes you ugly cry every time? Let us know in the comments!

Expand All
Comments / 0
Add a Comment
Most Popular newsMost Popular

Comments / 0